Buses, taxis, and autorickshaws kept off the roads and ferry services on rivers did not ply as normal life in West Bengal was badly hit today following a public transport strike called by the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) against the fuel price hike.
Commuters were greatly inconvenienced as they either had to walk for hours or had to shell out astronomical sums to board the handful of buses and taxis that appeared on the roads.
There were reports of the strike supporters using strong-arm tactics to force people out of taxis, but there were no major untoward incidents.
Despite Saturday being a holiday for government employees, people were seen hanging precariously from the footboards of overcrowded buses and jostling to get into trucks and lorries, as a few taxis and autorickshaws that were visible on the streets made a killing by charging exorbitant fares.
Ferry services on various rivers across the state also did not operate, increasing the inconvenience for commuters.
The strike was called by CITU, the labour arm of the ruling Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), hours after the central government Friday ended government curbs on petroleum pricing and hiked the prices of diesel, kerosene and cooking gas.
The price of diesel went up by Rs 2 a litre, kerosene by Rs 3 a litre and cooking gas by Rs 35 per cylinder. Petrol will now be costlier by Rs 3.50 per litre.
In the northern part of the state at Siliguri in Darjeeling district, public transport was paralysed. More than 90 per cent of the autorickshaws did not venture out onto the streets, while buses were not to be seen.
Many schools, colleges and universities deferred their scheduled examinations, to save their students from harassment.
Many of those who had to commute, availed cycle rickshaws and the city's runner-pulled rickshaws, which charged high rates.
"What can I do? I have to appear for my job interview. I paid Rs 100 to the rickshaw puller for travelling from my home to Ballygunge. I don't know why life is disrupted by calling strikes so often in Bengal," said Kolkata resident Amit Biswas.
However, many people supported the issue of the strike, but doubted whether this form of protest can bring any relief to the common man.
"The prices of essentials are already high. This fuel price rise will worsen our condition. But will the prices be revised tomorrow because of the strike?" asked Manini Gupta, a middle aged office-goer.
Though flights and train services were kept out of the purview of the protest, people had trouble getting transport to reach their destinations from the Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose airport and the railway stations.
Car owners were lucky as vehicles meant for private use were exempted from the strike. Metro railway services, also in the exempted category, functioned normally. "More than 350,000 passengers have boarded till 5 pm," said a Kolkata Metro rail official.
CITU state president Shyamal Chakraborty congratulated the people for responding spontaneously to the strike call.
"The strike has been a total success. People have responded spontaneously and wholeheartedly to an issue which is bound to affect their daily lives," Chakraborty said.
Main opposition Trinamool Congress leader Subrata Mukherjee said the strike made life difficult for the people. "It is nothing but a political stunt," he said.
Director General of Police Bhupinder Singh told IANS: "There are no reports of any untoward incident. The situation is completely peaceful."